I’ve a had a great time with this Kitoki amp, and have been fortunate to be able to spend quite a bit of time with it since the next person on the list is on vacation until the end of April. For a few years now, my reference amp has been the little 2 Watt Decware Zen powering Omega Alnico and RS5 monitors. It’s been a match made in heaven with a lot of synergy, and even though I’ve had numerous amps pass through my listening room the last couple of years, at the end of the day, the Zen always seemed to stay on top.
First some notes, my listening room is small at 10*12. Having a small room, I quickly learned that I’m never going to be able to have any sort of visceral bass in this space, which is fine because I’m not a bass head anyways. My priorities are midrange purity, imaging and transparency and these are what I focused on in this writeup.
The Kitoki is the first amp I’ve had that competes with the Zen. The differences are so slight that there is no way I could pick one over the other. Both are transparent, fast, dynamic, detailed and image like crazy. For a first product, Wolf Ear Audio is showing an awful lot of promise.
When I unpacked the amp and set it on the shelf, I instantly got an “oh no” it’s broken experience. Before turning it on, I wanted to turn the volume all the way down and as I grabbed the nob to gently turn it, nothing happened. It felt like it was locked in place. Nope, it was just that the clicks on this volume control are so tight, with such solid and positive steps that you really did need to grip it and turn it. I liked it!
For the first time ever, when putting an amp in my system, I couldn’t tell within a minute what the differences between it and the Zen were. After some hours of play, I did start to get a handle on where they differed, which for me, was primarily in the upper midrange. On some female vocals, the little Zen can exhibit the tiniest amount of glare. Is it a fault of the Zen or the recording? I don’t know. However with the Kitoki in the system, I soon noticed that when this glare was present, the Kitoki took it away; all of the sudden, some recordings with the slightest bit of glare, now sounded smooth and perfect. No hint of any glare at all was present. However, the flip side was that occasionally, with for instance some male vocals, I’d lose just the slightest bit of raspiness that would really make a vocalist come alive; things were smoother, but ever so slight. I’d compare it with sitting a couple of rows back from a live acoustical (non miked) performance when you were already near the front.
I’ve got a Decware Mini Torii using 6V6/6L6 tubes that does a wonderful job on female vocals, making them seem even smoother than the Kitoki, but there are times with the male vocals that it just sucks the life out of them too much making some recordings unenjoyable. The Kitoki never did that; I never had the desire to switch it out.
Another area which the Kitoki shined was its quietness. No question, solid state or tubed, this is the quietest amp I’ve had in my listening room. With an amp connected and plugged in, I’ve always been able to hear (with my ear next to the driver) either the slightest bit hum or a slight hiss. It’s the nature of dealing with high efficiency single driver speakers. The first time I tried this with the Kitoki, I was shocked. I didn’t hear a sound. I actually looked over to see if the amp was on. That was a first in my experience. Later I tried the same experiment in ultra-quiet early hours of the morning, and I could just barely sense the slightest bit of hum.
During my listening hours with the Kitoki, on more than a few times, I said to myself. “I think this amp might be giving me a little more of the “blacks” between both the notes and the spaces within the soundstage.” Perhaps this was an artifact of its quietness.
All of the above were my impressions with the SV83 tubes. I have spent a few hours now auditioning it with the EL84’s. Just as with the Decware, EL84’s are interchangeable in the Kitoki. In the past, I’d rolled some TAD EL84’s with the Decware and wasn’t super impressed. The sound became less dynamic, lost volume and just became too polite. When I threw in the Tung Sol supplied EL84’s into the Kitoki, I smiled. Yes, the EL84’s seemed less powerful but they were still very dynamic and not soft sounding like they were with the Decware. “Ahhh”, I thought….”now here is something really tangible that I can write about explaining how the Kitoki differentiates itself!” But then I on a whim I figured, I better try these Tung Sols in the Zen as well and sure enough, they showed that it was the tubes, not the amp that had initially turned me off to EL84’s. Overall, the EL84’s retained much of the SV83 sound just sort of relaxing every thing across the spectrum. They were nice and very listenable.
So it looks like I have another week before I have to think about shipping this amp out to the next on the list. As I said, I don’t have much listening on it with the EL84’s so I’ll try to get more time with those tubes and I have yet to touch the beautiful Power Cord and Interconnects that Andrew included. I’ll follow up with some impressions when I’m done.
Really all I want to do now is just turn on the amp and enjoy it. Sometimes when you have a nice amp, it’s not so much fun to “review” it, you’d rather just turn it on and appreciate it which is what you want to do with this Kitoki.